Victorian Knitting Patterns

That flower pattern is confusing isn’t it? Here is some info about Victorian knitting patterns. Next week, after you have time to play with this a bit, I’ll post a modern version of the instructions.

Measurements & Sizing

Patterns will be in inches because they were written before the metric system came into use. The sizes are not standardized in any way. And sometimes there are no measurements or sizes listed.

Many patterns do not list gauge, or needle size, making it almost impossible to knit the item in the correct size even when using the exact yarn specified. Yarn substitution information was rare, which made it even more difficult to recreate the project in the dimensions specified by the author.

Needle Sizes

To confuse matters further, at least for those of us living in the United States, while the old UK needle sizes go down as the actual circumference of the needle gets larger!

Victorian Knitting Patterns 1

Knitting and Crochet Terms

Most books have their own lists of terms and abbreviations, and there is little standardization. This is an example of what you might find.

The earliest books contain no abbreviations whatsoever, and in most even numbers are written out as words. Over time, abbreviations begin to appear, possibly introduced by publishers to save paper and ink, but perhaps by authors in an attempt to create instructions that were quicker to read.

I discovered the following ways to say “yarn over” given with various levels of description. Here are a few examples:

  • Turn over. By “turn over” means, bring the cotton round the needle so as to make a stitch.
  • A loop-stitch. Pass the thread before the needle, and in knitting the next stitch, let it take its place.
  • Make a stitch. When doing plain knitting, you bring the yarn forward between the 2 pins. This will make a stitch. And another way of doing it is to pick up a loop between the stitches, and knit it. To make a stitch when seaming [purling], the thread must be passed round the pin so as to bring it to the same side again.
  • Bring forward. Bring the thread in front, so as to make an open stitch.
  • Other variations included “put the cotton,” or, sometimes, thread, “round the needle” and “bring the cotton forward.”

When abbreviations began to be used, O seems to have quickly become the accepted abbreviation, but a variety of terms are used in the definitions:

  • O denotes “Raise the thread over the needle.
  • O, make a stitch, by bringing the thread to the front (by passing it under the right wire, to the front.)

Here are examples from a glossaries from a couple of early books:

Victorian Knitting Patterns 2The Ladies’ Work-Table Book

Containing Clear and Practical Instructions in Plain and Fancy Needlework, Embroidery, Knitting, Netting and Crochet

Anonymous, 1844

Available on Project Gutenberg.

  • To Cast on the Loops or Stitches.—Take the material in the right hand, and twist it round the little finger, bring it under the next two, and pass it over the fore finger. Then take the end in the left hand, (holding the needle in the right,) wrap it round[99] the little finger, and thence bring it over the thumb, and round the two fore fingers. By this process the young learner will find that she has formed a loop: she must then bring the needle under the lower thread of the material, and above that which is over the fore finger of the right hand under the needle, which must be brought down through the loop, and the thread which is in the left hand, being drawn tight, completes the operation. This process must be repeated as many times as there are stitches cast on.
  • Knitting Stitch.—The needle must be put through the cast-on stitch, and the material turned over it, which is to be taken up, and the under loop, or stitch, is to be let off. This is called plain stitch, and is to be continued until one round is completed.
  • Pearl Stitch.—Called also seam, ribbed, and turn stitch, is formed by knitting with the material before the needle; and instead of bringing the needle over the upper thread, it is brought under it.
  • To Rib, is to knit plain and pearled stitches alternately. Three plain, and three pearled, is generally the rule.
  • To cast over.—This means bringing the material round the needle, forward.
  • Narrowing.—This is to decrease the number of stitches by knitting two together, so as to form only one loop.
  • Raising.—This is to increase the number of stitches, and is effected by knitting one stitch as usual, and then omitting to slip out the left hand needle, and to pass the material forward and form a second stitch, putting the needle under the stitch. Care must be taken to put the thread back when the additional stitch is finished.
  • To Seam.—Knit a pearl stitch every alternate row.
  • A Row, means the stitches from one end of the needle to the[100] other; and a ROUND, the whole of the stitches on two, three, or more needles.
  • Note, in casting on a stocking, there must always be an odd stitch cast on for the seam.
  • To bring the thread forward, means to pass it between the needles toward the person of the operator.
  • A Loop Stitch, is made by passing the thread before the needle. In knitting the succeeding loop, it will take its proper place.
  • A Slip Stitch, is made by passing it from one needle to another without knitting it.
  • To fasten on.—This term refers to fastening the end of the material, when it is necessary to do so during the progress of the work. The best way is to place the two ends contrarywise to each other, and knit a few stitches with both.
  • To cast off.—This is done by knitting two stitches, passing the first over the second, and so proceeding to the last stitch, which is to be made secure by passing thread through it.
  • Welts, are rounds of alternate plain and ribbed stitches, done at the top of stockings, and are designed to prevent their twisting or curling up.

Sometimes knitting is done in rows of plain and pearl stitches, or in a variety of neat and fanciful patterns. Scarcely any kind of work is susceptible of so much variety, or can be applied to so many ornamental fabrics or uses in domestic economy.

The fair votary of this art must be careful neither to knit too tight or too loose. A medium, which will soon be acquired by care and practice, is the best, and shows the various kinds of work to the best advantage.

The young lady should take care to preserve her needles entirely free from rust, and to handle the materials of her work with as delicate a touch as possible.

Having thus given instructions in the common rudiments of this useful art, we proceed to give plain directions for some of the most beautiful.

Victorian Knitting Patterns 3My Knitting Book

Miss Lambert, 1843

Available on Project Gutenberg.

  • To cast on.—The first interlacement of the cotton on the needle.
  • To cast off.—To knit two stitches, and to pass the first over the second, and so on to the last stitch, which is to be secured by drawing the thread through.
  • To cast over.—To bring the cotton forward round the needle.
  • To narrow.—To lessen, by knitting two stitches together.
  • To seam.—To knit a stitch with the cotton before the needle.
  • To widen.—To increase by making a stitch, bringing the cotton round the needle, and knitting the same when it occurs.
  • A turn.—Two rows in the same stitch, backwards and forwards.
  • To turn.—To change the stitch.
  • To turn over.—To bring the wool forward over the needle.
  • A row.—The stitches from one end of the needle to the other.
  • A round.—A row, when the stitches are on two, three, or more needles. A plain row.—That composed of simple knitting.
  • To pearl a row.—To knit with the cotton before the needle.
  • To rib.—To work alternate rows of plain and pearl knitting.
  • To bring the thread forward.—To bring the cotton forward so as to make an open stitch.
  • A loop stitch.—Made by bringing the cotton before the needle, which, in knitting the succeeding stitch, will again take its own place.
  • To slip or pass a stitch.—To change it from one needle to the other without knitting it.
  • To fasten on.—The best way to fasten on is to place the two ends contrariwise, and knit a few stitches with both together. For knitting, with silk, or fine cotton, a weaver’s knot will be found the best.
  • To take under.—To pass the cotton from one needle to the other, without changing its position. Pearl, seam, and rib-stitch—All signify the same.

It is necessary, in giving or following directions for knitting, to caution knitters to observe a medium in their work—not knitting either too loose or too tight.

Natural History of Knitting Online Club
  1. Peggy Newfield 04/16/2019 at 6:57 pm Reply

    Thank you for sharing these very interesting historical examples! While the language feels arcane it is reassuring to see they were doing things exactly like we do them today!

  2. I was kinda worried about that Size 19 needle!

    Wouldn’t a video of these flowers be wonderful?!

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